LIGHT A FIRE
Best New Nonprofit
Awarded to an organization incorporated after January 1, 2012
2014: College Possible
At some point in high school, every ambitious student begins to grapple with the college question: where to go, how to get in, and how to pay for it all. That’s where College Possible comes into play, disrupting the cycle of poverty by providing intensive coaching and mentorship to low-income high schoolers from the Gresham, Reynolds, Parkrose, and David Douglas districts. From standardized test prep to financial planning to crafting a personal essay, coaches devote a total of about 300 hours to distinct goals between 11th and 12th grade. “We target low-income kids who have the capability to go to college, but because of any number of reasons they don’t have support,” says executive director Suzanne Geary. “A College Possible coach helps them understand the steps to get there and graduate.”
First implemented in Minnesota in 2000, College Possible launched in Portland in 2012. Already, students in Portland’s expanding program have significantly improved their ACT scores. Here’s how College Possible helps its students make the grade.
10th Grade: College Possible recruits students to its core program in a series of after-school events featuring college-prep talks and Q&A sessions. → The average College Possible student has a GPA above 3.15 and comes from a home with an annual household income of under $28,000.
11th Grade: Students attend 160 hours of individual or small-group sessions, preparing for the ACT and learning to create budgets and develop financial plans that include available aid and scholarships. → On average, College Possible students improve their ACT scores by 21 percent.
12th Grade: Working with a coach to hone their career aspirations, students compile a list of their five top colleges. Meanwhile, they fill out FAFSA forms, mentor younger students, and tackle the dreaded personal essay. → 98 percent of College Possible students earn admission to college.
College: Once in college, each student is paired with a coach who continues to offer guidance until they earn their degree. → Only 8.3 percent of low-income students graduate from college by age 24, while 57 percent of College Possible students earn a degree by that age.
2013: APP CAMP FOR GIRLS
THE FUTURE of computer science may be wearing a pair of dangly motherboard earrings and talking a mile a minute about what it takes to build your own app. “We spent a lot of time on it, and I pulled out a lot of hairs over it,” 15-year-old Aysa Klocke says, ear-ware flapping as she shows off an iPod Touch loaded with a quiz app that she helped brainstorm, program, design, and debug during Portland’s first-ever App Camp for Girls. “But the harder you work, the more gratifying it is.”
That’s music to Jean MacDonald’s ears. Disturbed by the lack of women in her industry, the partner at local Mac and iPhone development firm Smile decided to mash up summer camp fun with tech lessons to get middle school girls hooked on app-making. Her idea struck a nerve. App Camp reached its original $50,000 fundraising goal on IndieGoGo in three days. The all-volunteer nonprofit has since raised more than $106,000.
With two camps under their belt, MacDonald and AC4G’s lone developer, Natalie Osten, have already been inundated with pleas for camps in cities from Denver to New York. The goal for 2014 is three PDX camp sessions and to launch a new camp in at least one other city—they just need more “nerdy women” to volunteer their time. But for now, they’re still high-fiving campers over what they did last summer. Camp was set up at the SE Belmont café TaborSpace, where the girls slurped Italian sodas as they scribbled out their ideas and learned the nuts and bolts of app development from an all-lady cadre of tech pros. At the end of the five-day camp, the girls presented their creations to a panel of local women investors and entrepreneurs and scored a copy of the Big Nerd Ranch programming book.
“I got to design a program and then do yoga and hula-hoop—it was legit,” says Klocke. “The technology and engineering fields really are limited for women. App Camp gives you that confidence to believe that, yeah, I can do this.”
2012: AUGUST WILSON, RED DOOR PROJECT
Impact at a Glance
Number of Performances
Cocktails typically cap off a night at the theater. But conversation was the only thing on the menu following Profile Theatre’s spring matinee of A Lesson Before Dying, based on the book by Ernest Gaines. Set in Louisiana, Romulus Linney’s gritty play deals head-on with difficult racial themes—the dehumanization of black people, for instance, and how debasement begets anger and self-loathing. Instead of filing out for a manhattan, though, the audience engaged in a discussion about race, a topic many Portlanders find difficult, even impossible, to talk about. “We wanted to create a space where people don’t feel guilty about their feelings around race, where they could be open, not shamed, and grow from the experience,” says Lesli Mones, who cofounded the August Wilson Red Door Project with her partner and the play’s director, Kevin E. Jones, in 2011. The discussion following A Lesson Before Dying was just one of the talk back sessions hosted this spring by the Red Door Project, which “strives to change the racial ecology of Portland,” a city that historically, geographically, and culturally has kept its citizens of color separated from its white ones. During the discussion session, one audience member spoke about developing a fear of black people after being robbed by two black men. Another woman talked about how hard it is being the only black person at a party—time and time again. The discussions provide a way to talk in a forthright way about racism’s very painful legacy. The method has not gone unnoticed. Lauded by the Huffington Post, the nonprofit collaborates with Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland Art Museum, and others to mount work by people of color. “Ultimately, we aren’t just trying to create black theater,” Jones says. “What we want is the experience of human connection.”
2011: Creative Cares
For nonprofits, creating a compelling story of accomplishments through video, photography, and the written word can mean the difference between luring future-redefining grants and gifts and laying off staff members. Enter CreativeCares, a fledgling nonprofit that pairs creative professionals with the charities that need their skills. Founder Burk Jackson, a veteran freelance photographer, calls the service a kind of Match.com for creatives willing to donate their time to the nonprofits that inspire them. Since its inception in 2010, CreativeCares’ roster of more than 80 copywriters, graphic designers, photographers, filmmakers, and more have helped tell the stories of nonprofits serving everything from Oregon’s homeless population to disabled children in rural Tanzania. Jackson aims to bump his well of creatives and nonprofits to 1,000 each. “Thirty years ago Mercy Corps was just an idea,” Jackson says. “As creatives, we need to be asking, ‘How do we support the other nonprofits to help them become that kind of organization?’”
2010: PORTLAND FRUIT TREE PROJECT
You may be surprised to learn that Oregon is second only to Mississippi for the highest percentage of underfed households in the nation. Luckily, we can also claim the Portland Fruit Tree Project, or PFTP, a fledgling nonprofit that, in 2009, organized more than 250 volunteers to visit 42 sites and harvest more than 15,000 pounds of pristine plums, pears, apples, persimmons, and quince that otherwise would have ended up sullying sidewalks and lawns. Half of the luscious loot, gathered from trees owned by private citizens who preregister their excess bounties with PFTP, is taken home by harvesters (half of whom are low-income), and the rest is donated to local food banks. In 2010, the two-person organization was able to register all interested fruit-tree owners, offer tree care and fruit preservation workshops, and partner with city officials and community organizations to plant what founder and executive director Katy Kolker refers to as public “food forests,” such as the Sabin Community Orchard in Northeast. When it comes to community-initiated solutions to the problem of hunger, PFTP is a model of innovation.